Remembering Kobe Bryant (pt. 1)
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Episode 1: Remembering Kobe Bryant
Release date: 2/6/20
Welcome to the Goal Tending Podcast, a sports and lifestyle podcast, co-hosted by former pro hooper Donald Watts (Watts Basketball) and former pro scout Matt McKay (Pro Insight). We provide analysis, break down nuances, lean in to mindfulness, and of course talk plenty of basketball.
We will turn each podcast episode into a blog post, essentially putting the audio onto paper, which we hope will take on the vibe of each show...which as you will soon find out, we keep things pretty informal here at GTP! If we ever reference something of note or special importance on the podcast, we will do our best to link that reference at the bottom of each blog post for the audience’s convenience...like a footnote, of sorts.
In the first-ever episode, Remembering Kobe Bryant, we honor one of the game’s all-time greats, reflect on his legacy, provide some personal anecdotes, as well as begin to introduce what shape we hope Goal Tending will take on over time.
Donald: This is Coach Watts here. I got one of my best friends in the world, Matt McKay on the air with me and this is The Goal Tending. This podcast is 12 years in the making and this is the first episode. And we’ve really had, I guess a lot of hidden episodes already. We just didn’t record them (laughs). This will be a fun show for our audience because basically Matt and I already jump on the phone all the time and talk about all kinds of things and can talk forever. We promise to try to keep it to about 30 minutes. But yeah, this is Coach Watts, and my guy Matt. Matt, tell them a little bit about yourself.
Matt: No doubt. I appreciate it, Donald. I feel like it was only right to finally do something like this. I wish we would've had a recorder on for some of our convos over the years, but I'm really excited just to dive into this and kind of see where it goes. We're going about it in a very authentic manner and we both love the game. It's such a big part of our lives and our identities, and I'm excited just for how it's gonna play out, man. I mean we met in like 2006 or so, so this podcast seems like thirteen or fourteen years in the making.
Donald: Yup, and there we go. I'm trying to stay young, man.
Matt: So yeah, going back to when we first met, that was also kind of the inception of what you started building with Watts Basketball. That was kind of a new chapter for you. And I remember working part time in that tiny little 500 square foot office and just kind of having those meetings of the minds every day with our little crew and building it from scratch. But then from there, you just kept on building while I shifted gears a little bit and worked at the college level, then the NBA level and so on. I had the chance to just stick with it and really get experience at every level so I've been really blessed. Now, I’m not in the NBA anymore...I have been switching gears and here I am, trying to build some stuff with you.
Donald: Yes. There we go. You know what, man? I think about the name of the podcast (Goal Tending) and I know it took us a little while to get to it...there were several iterations...at first we were, what was the first name? Hanging on the rim?
Matt: Something like that, yeah.
Donald: We were throwing some names around. And that was, a month or so ago. But as I think about it, and I think about our personal relationship and what it means and how we call and check in on each other and really give each other motivation during tough times. We keep each other going and I think about the name ‘Goal Tending.’ And it's really what we have been for each other, you know what I'm saying? Like, ‘what are you trying to accomplish?’ ‘Hey man, you can go for it.’ You might say, ‘hey D, I'm having a tough time,’ or this or that and we bounce things off of each other. And really, I think one of the critical roles that we've played in each other's lives is just, is understanding each other's talent, understanding each other's vision, mission, and being those friends for each other that keep us grounded and focused during tough times and during really great times when you need some humbling. And so I'm just excited to be able to give that, share that to the world while we weave in some basketball analysis or sports analysis and, you know, at the end of the day, tying it all back into life. Cause that's what it's all about.
Matt: Yeah, man, it's much bigger than basketball. Not to sound cliché, but it really is. I'm the oldest of three siblings, but I've always kind of felt like your little brother. And yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Like, I think with our individual life experiences, we'll just be able to really touch on a lot of different things...different topics and different ideas. And I'm excited to continue to be an advocate for you and I'm just excited to kind of broaden this audience a little bit.
Donald: Yeah, absolutely. Well, with that said, let's jump into the topic. Just the subject that's heavy on everybody's heart right now, which is the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. I think it kind of just took us all by surprise. I got the text from you. That text wasn't even anything about Kobe, but I knew where you were at and you said, ‘I love you, bro.’ You know, and it's one of those moments in life you’ll never forget where you were at. One of the things for me that's been amazing -- and I know you had some personal experiences with him, working in the NBA -- but one of the things that's been amazing for me is just to see the impact that he's had on people. It's not surprising, but it's surprising. And it's not surprising because obviously he was a terrific player. He was a great player, one of the greatest who ever lived. But his personality and his image that he manufactured as a player to get to where he wanted to get to was very, ‘abrasive.’
He kept people at bay. It was almost like he was so determined and relentless in his goals and his approach that it was almost like he developed a mentality that having friends is a weakness, you know? And we've touched on it briefly in our private conversations, but for a guy who really established like that as his ‘thing,’ as like this lone ranger, to evolve the way he did...wasn’t something I was totally expecting. For most people he was very polarizing. He was an example by how hard he worked and what he was able to achieve, but he was also very, very intimidating.
And I think all that, all of that was intentional. And the biggest surprise for me is how he transitioned. I mean, I don't think I've ever seen an athlete make a bigger 180 going from being a player to retirement...and as far as I could tell, it seemed like he was in an authentic place...really for the first time, he let people really see who he was. It was like he opened up his arms to the entire basketball universe when he had been closed down for twenty years.
Matt: Yeah that's a fascinating point. That in itself is surprising yet not surprising, and it's not surprising because of how methodical of a person and thinker he was. You know what I mean? I think he is such an introspective person. Like you said, I think part of it is he felt like in that chapter of his life, he could, finally turn the page in a way. I think as he turned the page he realized he didn't need to be that cold blooded killer night in and night out. He could kind of use that Mamba Mentality as a platform. One example would be him creating his Academy, right? And just fully realizing the gravity that he had. And honestly from there, kind of to an extreme, right? Like, I mean, he's out here winning Academy Awards! Tapping into his creativity and passion. He's writing children's books. I mean, yeah. On one hand it's like, ‘what?!’ This is the guy whose eyes were possessed in the fourth quarter and now he’s writing a children's book. But at the same time, it makes all the sense in the world because he channeled that in a healthy way. And that's what I mean, but that's one of the saddest parts, you know? I mean, just where could that have gone, right? So surprising yet, not surprised at the same time, if you're really digging deep and looking at it from 10,000 feet.
Donald: What's your favorite personal Kobe story? Can you pull back the curtain at all, for folks?
Matt: I just, I wrote a little something the other day about this. I do a little bit of writing now and then with Babcock Hoops. I can kind of reiterate what I wrote there...it was kind of my ‘welcome to the NBA’ moment: It’s my first month or so on the job for the Trail Blazers. We’ve got Kobe opening night. It's Damian Lillard’s first game ever. It seemed like Damian had a great day, but everything seemed countered and then one-upped by Kobe. He only had 30, but it was the easiest 30 I'd ever seen. I'd seen him live before at Sonics games and obviously hundreds of times on TV, but that was just a moment that'll always resonate with me. I was just like, ‘man, I'm in the league! There's Kobe, you know, 10 feet away. Just getting buckets, killing, making it look too easy...it was just kind of a ‘pinch me’ moment. I also remember his first all-star game. It would have been ‘98, right? February ‘98. That one move he had...the behind-the-back to the same hand into the baby hook in transition. I can't tell you how many times I practiced that out in my driveway after that.
From that point on, being something like nine years old, I just became literally obsessed with the game and with Kobe. So I've kind of felt like my love affair with the NBA and basketball has really paralleled his career. Growing up, I was a die hard Sonics fan. I wouldn't say I ever hated Kobe, but I always feared him, man. He would just put the fear of God in you anytime your team faced him, ‘cause he was capable of literally doing anything. He felt like a superhero.
Donald: Well, I had some personal experience with him when he initially got to LA. I'm working at the Pump Camp as a counselor, having just finished my freshman year at Washington and Kobe is coming to town for his press stuff or whatever, and he's with Adidas and the Pump brothers are Adidas. So he comes to camp in the morning here I am thinking I’m going to be counseling the kids and instead, I ended up working out with him, playing one-on-one, all that stuff. And this is a young, totally developmental stage Kobe Bryant...and, man, we had our morning workout and then we would go to UCLA in the afternoon and Magic had his guys playing. And we would go out there and play. We had both grown up playing around pros….my father being a pro, his father being a pro...we had a lot of parallels.
So we kind of hit it off, man, We really enjoyed rapping with each other and talking to each other. We were raised the same way in a lot of ways...and one of the things I learned playing with X-Man growing up, playing with the Sonics or whoever it was, you respect the run.
They (the pros) are going to let you play. But you kind of try to fit in and, you know, knock down open shots. And for the most part, your role is not really to be the playmaker...it's to finish plays when given the opportunity. You gotta play hard, you gotta come at cats, but you know, like you don't have the experience, you're not going to be a playmaker. Well, Kobe walked into the gym. He didn't have any ego. At the time, it wasn't like he came in entitled...you could tell he loved the work. He worked his tail off, but he walked into the gym and said ‘what's up’ to everybody. Everybody was like, ‘okay, he's the next great Laker, right? And man, we started playing and Kobe was trying everything. Kobe was Kobe without his usual success. But he wasn't backing down.
Matt: His approach was the same.
Donald: Yeah, his approach was the same, but he wasn't backing down...and, you know, nine months later, I'm seeing him in the playoffs shoot the air ball that I saw him shoot four times at UCLA. I'm just like, ‘this dude.’ So anyway, we get into the van after the UCLA run and I don't say anything to him, and when we leave, he's like, ‘man, thanks for the run everybody. Nice meeting you, pleasure, we'll be back tomorrow.’ You know? And we get in the van headed back and I'm thinking to myself, ‘man, I don't know if they're going to invite us back tomorrow cause you messed up. Cause you messed up the run.’ I didn't say that to him, but I was sure thinking it. I was only a year older than him and I didn’t understand it back then. I didn’t get his mindset.
Now, 20-something years later, it's what I try to teach, right? I try to teach the kids the lessons I learned from him in that five, six-day period. As I look back on it and then look at how his career went, he was going to swing big, knowing that there was a high degree that he would miss big, but he wasn't getting all the information he needed from that swing. So then when he went to work, he was going to work on being the absolute greatest. For me, that's everything. I'm constantly stressing to kids that are in developmental phases to put yourself in situations where you have the freedom to make mistakes, because that's how we learn. That's how we grow. And he was never protecting his reputation, or his ego...he didn't have a fragile ego from the standpoint of people judging him. You know what I mean?
Matt: Talk about mental toughness.
Donald: Yeah. It was just like, ‘this dude crazy!’ Just watching his career from afar for the rest of the time, I was just mentally proud of what I had watched him become as a man in retirement. I don't know, cause I've been around a lot of NBA players; I've been around a lot of professional athletes and I don't think I've ever seen anyone else at that heightened level, then transition so smoothly into life...he seemed to be really authentic and happy. And for me, that just makes it all the more tragic.
Matt: Absolutely, man. I can't even really talk or think too much about it...all of the lives that were lost...and the fact that his daughter was on that helicopter...man. That almost hurts the most. Just seeing all the video clips of her games since the accident...she was already a killer. You know what I mean?
Donald: Right, right. Absolutely. Well, you know what, man? I think that the work that we're doing and the work that we plan to do is right in line with the work that he was doing. And essentially it just makes me feel more purpose, for what it is that we need to do. You know what I mean? This is what we're supposed to do. So you know, rest in peace to Kobe, rest in peace to Gigi, the other families involved. Tremendous tragedy. Like I said, I feel tremendously blessed to have some personal experiences with him. One thing I would love to hear you share real quick is just your take of what Kobe was doing on his farewell tour, with other guys, as far as embracing them.
Matt: Yeah, man, I mean, we were talking the other night about the contrast between the beginning of his career, his peak, and then his last stand...going back to that final season, I would imagine that internally, for Kobe, things had shifted a little bit. You know, when he announced, I think it was in December or so of his final year, that it was going to be his farewell tour. All of those stops, like every week, picking a guy or two or whatever, bringing them into the locker room pre or post-game and breaking it down, just sharing knowledge, providing encouragement and letting them ask questions...kind of being that big brother. You could just tell from the outside looking in, that that was kind of a really neat, neat moment in time and that it only grew from there. I think that allowed him to lay the groundwork for what these past few years have looked like. And I think there's this, the ripple effect of sorts, from that...like listening to Spencer Dinwiddie post-game the other day. I don't even know if it was publicly or just in a text or something to Spencer, but it had said something like, regardless of what happens, ‘you're an all-star this year, man.’ That, as a kid from LA like Spencer, you could tell very genuinely through his tears that that's all that really mattered to him...whether he was voted in by the coaches, or not. So all that to say, I think at a certain point Kobe began to understand his gravity and what he meant to people. And yeah, pulling players into the locker room was the starting point for me where I noticed it. And then since then it's only grown. It's just a cool narrative. And it's kind of ironic to hear, you know, you tell that story about when you first met him in ‘96 as a 17-year-old, how you were kind of looking at him sideways a little bit. But then over the next 20-plus years that's become woven into your philosophy as a teacher. It seems like there are a ton of parallels in your mentality and how you guys operate in your methodical approach. That's one thing that's drawn me, I think even closer to you as a friend...because I know that we can have an in-depth conversation. You're going to be informed. You're going to be well-thought out about it. I think Kobe was very similar in that. Again, just drawing back to what you said, that's kind of the inspiration for getting this started. Although the helicopter crash is extremely sad and my heart has rarely ever felt this heavy, I think it's a really special kind of launching point for this podcast.
Donald: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, man. Well, let's celebrate, you know, let's celebrate the life of those folks and let's continue the legacy of youth development. Not just youth development, but development of the game at all levels, man. Goal Tending and here we are. Matt: Yessir!
For part 2 of this episode, click here
Donald and Matt in the Amalfi Coast for Matt’s wedding in 2018
Donald: Talk a little bit about, a little bit more about what it is that you're up to now. Then I'll share a little bit about what I'm up to and then we'll talk about what we're going to do together.
Matt: Sure, man. So like I said, since we first connected back in the day, I went to work at the college level for five years and in the NBA for six. As of July, 2018, I kind of shifted gears. A new regime had come into Charlotte and fired all the scouts. I was a college scout at the time, just very much inundated with the NBA draft, scouring for talent all across the country, mostly at the college level.
Since then, I've kind of made a little bit of a zig and have taken a dive into the grassroots level, just because I was kind of seeking out a new, different challenge. So that level has been my focus. I still definitely keep a close pulse on the college game and obviously the NBA game. I've enjoyed just kind of dipping my toe in the water, getting a feel for these players earlier. I started a company called Pro Insight to give me the channel to dive into this from a media standpoint, from a scouting standpoint, from a development standpoint, by starting a website.So I’ve been getting out and covering a bunch of high school events...we started a Q&A Series, too, which was very much inspired by my experience interviewing prospects at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, over the years. So that’s been a cool platform for these players, you know, 15-18 years old, to kind of help prepare them for what they might be encountering in terms of tougher questions like that in the future. I also want to help grow and inform their audience. So the website is where the series lives. And yeah, man...it's been a great project that I’m really excited about continuing to build.
Donald: You're doing a lot of great stuff. I mean you've been all over the basketball world and created a large community...you’re a terrific relationship builder. And I say it privately, but I want to say it here on Goal Tending as a great friend that I'm immensely proud of all the work that you've done. But I also want to tell you that you messed up a little bit. Right now on the podcast, because just because you've glossed over a little bit of Pro Insight...and one of the things that I'm really excited about and I think it's the right time for us to partner, is how much of a resource you can be for the prospect. You are a resource for the prospect as well as for the coaches, the universities who want to get to know these prospects better. Your database is a place where coaches can go find out that deeper information about kids, so that they can, you know, make sure that they're recruiting the right kids. And then kids that find their way on your platform are going to be in front of the top coaches in the country. That's really very cool...a very authentic thing, man. And you didn't really touch on that enough. But I'm gonna work on you big dog!
Matt: Got you. Your turn.
Donald: Donald Watts, Coach Watts. Watts Basketball. Matt told you, I've been running it for about 14 years now. I played at the University of Washington. I was the 1995 Washington State Player of the Year. I was one of the top prospects on the west coast. I believe I was ranked number-four as a senior, behind some really good dudes: Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Jelani McCoy. I was number four or five. But I was climbing. I was like a kid who was still in my developmental phase. When I got to the University of Washington, I got sick. I dealt with some chronic fatigue syndrome. I was able to work through it, to have a successful college career, to help get my school to two consecutive NCAA tournaments. And then I went on to play professionally around the world, but continued to struggle with the fatigue syndrome, you know...I changed my diet: gluten free, sugar free, all of that stuff. But I’ve had some really, really tough times. One of the things that this Kobe situation has forced me to look at is...when we left each other from working out, it was like, ‘man, I'll see you in a year or two.’ You know, like, ‘see you next time’ or ‘see you next year.’ You know, like on that court, on that stage, and the NBA. And it didn't work out like that. But what I did is, I've grown up, you know. Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald was the first player in NBA history to lead the NBA in scoring and assists in the same season. My father, Slick Watts, was the first person to lead the NBA and steals and assists in the same season. My youth coach was Downtown Freddie Brown, one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. You know, I've had the opportunity to train and work out with Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, some of the greats. I was really dedicated to becoming a Hall of Fame basketball player, but that path changed for me. What I did is I had to figure out how I could stay in the game, give back and give all of that stuff that I learned from some of the all-time great basketball players back to kids in my community.
So with that in mind, we started Watts Basketball, Gamechangers For Life. Because really it's about, you know, similar to the Mamba Mentality, it's about creating a process and approach to things, through the sport that will allow you to apply it to anything that you want to be productive to reach goals and to be productive in life for yourself and for others.
Donald has been running camps, clinics, events, and private trainings throughout the northwest for the past 15 years
Here we are now, man...we do camps, clinics, train kids. I'm excited about where our partnership with Pro Insight comes to light, because I'm on the development side and you evaluate...that's what you do at the highest level. I'm just excited to expand and for you to be a part of events that we're doing, for college prep events to help prepare kids for all of this stuff. Because although I consider myself a trustworthy source when it comes to evaluating, it's much easier for me to have somebody I trust doing the evaluating...giving the parents and the kids that really authentic information that they need. So that they can figure out what they need to be working on to accomplish their goals and their dreams. And I know I always say this: I've never told a kid they could play college basketball that didn't get an opportunity.
You can't buy that from me. Because if I call a coach, they need to be able to trust that I'm sending them somebody who's going to go and be productive and help them keep their job at the end of the day. And if I send them a kid that's not, then I can't send them the next kid. There goes your reputation. But, so I've always, you know, been as honest as possible. So having Pro Insight on board with things we're doing, like our academy, having our camps, elite camps, camps where you come in, play against some top talent, and get evaluated by an NBA-level scout...that elevates it. And maybe if they are good enough, they’ll make it onto your site. And your site is one that the coaches know that nobody is paying to be on, right? So the players that land on your site are going to be players that are legitimate prospects and legitimate prospects only. So that gives the players an opportunity to really work to get on that level. And at the very least, they're going to know what they need to work on to improve so they can be specific, and not waste anyone’s time and energy.
Matt: No doubt. I mean, growing up as a player, obviously a much different caliber of player, but the things I would have done to receive an actual scouting report on myself. Right? I mean, all I ever received from a camp or any sort of event was like a participation certificate, signed that said you completed it. So you and I are trying to create something that’s different.
Since leaving the NBA, I’ve really relished that opportunity to look a player in the eye, break down their game in a scouting report and share it with them, let them ask follow up questions, stuff like that. That’s been awesome. And it's happened a few times with the Q&A series. I was out in North Carolina to see a player workout and feature him on the Q&A series...that player may actually wind up being draft-eligible this year, but anyway, he's in a prep school program...I got to watch him work out. Against some really good competition. I got an up-close feel. I was talking with his coach. You know, we had talked before and he said, ‘hey, would you mind just kind of giving, you know, giving us the breakdown after?’ They just wanted some feedback. So I was more than happy to do that...we talked for ten fifteen minutes just about his game and we’ve built a really good rapport ever since. I love flipping it around and now being able to work with players in this capacity, being able to draw on my decade-plus working on the team side.
Donald: Right, absolutely. Well, this is a little bit over 30 minutes. That wraps up today's version of Goal Tending, Matt...awesome stuff. Looking forward to doing great things here and on the courts, with you. Our listening audience, make sure you subscribe to us and, we'll be back next week , I'm Donald Watts at Watts Basketball.
Matt: and I’m Matt McKay at Pro Insight.
Donald: We're coming at you...we're Goal Tending.
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